Room by Emma Donoghue

Jack has just turned 5. He lives with his Ma in “Room”, an 11 square foot space which is the only world he has ever known. Their only visitor is Old Nick, who comes through the locked door at night, when Jack is supposed to be asleep in Wardrobe. His Ma had told him that there was nothing but Outer Space around Room, and that the shows he sees on TV are pretend. But now that he is 5, Ma has decided that he is ready to learn that Outside is real, and that together they need to make an escape plan.

The story is told by Jack,  so events are seen through his eyes  and are therefore understood and relayed from a 5 year old”s perspective. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Jack and his Ma are being held against their will, but as Ma has shielded Jack from the worst of the horrors, we are aware of them only obliquely. In fact, Jack is quite content – he and his Ma have a routine, play games, read stories, and he even gets an occasional treat. The reader must fill in the gaps.

Room is an extraordinary novel, and absolutely deserving of it’s place on the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist. It is gripping, suspenseful, imaginative and original, and even has surprising moments of humour. Jack’s voice is authentic, and Emma Donoghue manages to sustain it, without faltering, for the entire story – a feat in itself. The other incredible thing about this novel is that the author has taken such a dreadful situation and managed to fashion a moving and sensitive evocation of the strong bond and deep love between a mother and her child. So despite the subject matter, the book is ultimately hopeful and uplifting. $33. Fiona


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